Cast members (from left) Leith McLean

Theatre Diaries – Pt. V – Making magic

Barbara Roden's final piece on how a theatre production comes together. Switching Principals is playing March 12-15 in Ashcroft.

Wherein we follow the Winding Rivers Arts and Performance Society as it puts on a show. . . .

Mar. 3: An unexpected cancellation by the musical group that was scheduled to do a WRAPS-sponsored concert on Friday, March 14 has opened up that night, and after a series of e-mails, phone calls, and consultations we decide to add a performance of the play. The consensus seems to be that we’re all working so hard, and having so much fun, that a fifth performance is only fitting.

Mar. 4: We’re still pulling together costumes, so every rehearsal is preceded by a thoughtful consideration of various items of clothing, footwear, jewelry, and accessories, and the high school library looks like behind the scenes at a fashion show. Hair and make-up ideas are also discussed, as we try to settle on a “look” for each person. All these details will help the actors “become” their characters, and we couldn’t do that nearly as well without all this work.

Mar. 5: The difference between tonight’s run-through and the first one, a little more than a week ago, is like night and day. Lines are falling into place, there’s much less hesitation and faltering, and director Mavourneen Varcoe-Ryan’s notes focus on “pumping up” certain lines, and working on actions and gestures.

Mar. 6: It’s our last rehearsal at Ashcroft Secondary School, and when we’re done we participate in the ritual of “pulling up the masking tape from the library floor”, a task that’s easier said than done. It’s not without a little sadness that we say farewell to our home away from home for the last seven weeks.

Mar. 8: The day starts at 10 am, with a large and eager crew of people down at the Ashcroft Community Hall. Barb Davidge has already got the costumes there, and when the truck containing the community stage trundles up everything is unloaded and set in place in double quick time. Then a fleet of cars and trucks heads to the high school, where volunteers fan out to collect all our props, bits of set, and the flats that teacher Brent Close and his art class students have painted for us. Last, but not least, our faithful door in the library is disassembled and carried away to its brand new home.

The Hall is a hive of activity under the eye of Jim Duncan, and the buzz and hum of drills and saws provides a background accompaniment to all the comings and goings. One by one the flats that will make up the walls and back of the set go up and are braced while another crew works on the raised platform that has only existed in our imagination until now. When the flats that have been painted with filing cabinets on them – complete with books, a plant, and a globe on top – go up, there’s a gasp of admiration for how great they look.

However, there’s a slight problem: we’re two flats short. The stage area ends up being deeper than we had calculated, so there’s a quick trip to Irly Bird for more lumber, and two more flats are swiftly built. Where there’s a will – plus a table saw, power drill, hammer, and nails – there’s a way. As I leave at 4:15 to go home for a quick freshen up before the evening’s rehearsal, I see our faithful library door being readied for its place between the newly constructed flats.

When I get back 45 minutes later and walk into the Hall, the effect is stunning. All the flats and doors have been put in place, and the furniture moved on to the stage; a whiteboard adorned with notices and memos (“Staff meeting, Tuesday, 3:30”) has been hung up; and a picture of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip hangs on the back wall. The tools, screws, cables, sawdust, and nails have been cleared away, the crew is happily eating pizza at the back of the Hall, and the entire set has taken on an air of serene calm which is completely at odds with the bustle and noise of only six hours earlier. We have all created, from nothing, a fully realized place that is only waiting for actors to bring it to life. It’s little short of magic.

The last cast members arrive, costumes are changed into, and the rehearsal starts. Being on the actual stage is tremendously exciting, and while the raised section takes a bit of getting used to everyone seems completely at home. The scripts clutched nervously in hand are long gone, but until now we’ve been able to call “Line, please” if we forget. Tonight we can’t even do that, and although most people have their lines down there are still some pauses and hesitations. Other cast members quickly learn to step forward and help out when someone else has “dried”, asking a question or giving a prompt to help the actor get back on track.

Mar. 9: The crew is back today, getting the rigging built and the lights up, adding decorations to the set, and hooking up the sound system. There’s a lot of work backstage, too. Carpet is laid, to muffle the sound of people moving around; chairs are set up for actors to use between scenes; tables are put in place for props; and Christmas lights are strung up to provide discreet illumination that will prevent us crashing into things but won’t be seen by the audience. A storage room is converted into a make-up and change room, with tables, chairs, mirrors, and lights. All of this is a reminder that what the audience sees on stage is only the tip of a vast iceberg, made possible through the work of many unseen but dedicated volunteers.

Two more rehearsals to go, and then it’s opening night. We’re simultaneously excited and nervous, eager to step on stage for that first performance but wondering what Wednesday will bring. Looking back, however, we can see just how far we’ve come from that first rehearsal back in January. A daunting mountain lay in front of us then, and there were times when we wondered if we’d ever make it to the top. Now the summit is in sight, and we can’t wait. On with the show!

Barbara Roden

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